Apple, Onion, Sausage and Sage Stuffed Baked Pumpkins

Dinner tonight was, in a word: WOW.  It was visually stunning, imaginatively simple, flavorful and hearty, crisp sweet and rich meaty, herbaceous and vegetal and positively porcine.   I’ve been wanting to eat out of a pumpkin for years, and finally had Farmer Clayton and the Busa bounty provide me with two  perfect specimens of gourdeliciousness.  (Admittedly, Clayton’s first attempt yielded pumpkins too small for our purposes, but once I’d Marcel Marceau’d my intentions, the next night he bought two beauties he’d freshly picked from the field, after planting them several months ago.)  The title says it all: Apple, Onion, Sausage and Sage Stuffed Pumpkins — with some heavy cream to spectacularly soupify the savory sweet roasted filling, and some toasted pumpkin seeds to add crunch and spice.  I will dream of this meal until I make it again, and make it for friends or family or lovers or heroes or anyone who deserves to tuck into a steaming sphere of sweetsavorysaltyspicy deliciousness like this.  Perfection – simple perfection.  And SO EASY.  Eating this was like ascending to Asgardian heights of gusterrific euphoria.  If it’s not the same for you, I fear you might be dead…


Apple, Onion, Sausage and Sage Stuffed Baked Pumpkins

2 medium pumpkins (these were each about 4lbs, and the size of a soccer ball)
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 bunch fresh sage
2 slices of white bread
1 medium red onion
1 crisp fresh apple (this is a Lincoln Honeycrisp)
2 eggs
sea salt, cracked black pepper
heavy cream (not pictured)

I start by removing the sausage from it’s casings (by flaying them open with my kitchen shears, a technique that always makes Clayton cringe with sympathy — for the sausage) and searing the seasoned meat in my wok.


Meanwhile, Clayton sacrifices his pumpkin progeny by decapitating them with my chef’s knife.  Well, he did plant the seeds, propagate the vines, raise the pumpkins and then pick them himself – therefore: progeny.  It’s only fitting that he split them open for us to eat, too.  (He also grew the sage and onion, the apple is from a nearby orchard, and the eggs are from Chip-in Farm.)  Resting the gourds on a kitchen rag set on a cutting board (to stabilize them), he uses a rocking motion with my sharp blade to saw the tops off.  It’s OK if they’re not exactly straight – just as long as there is a nice sized, self-contained bowl left over to fill later.


Using a large spoon to scrape, and my shears to snip the sinewy threads, Clayton cleans out both bowls.  I have him save the seeds, ‘cuz I’m planning on using them, too.


In another large bowl, I prepare my filling.  I’ve ripped two slices of bread and a handful of sage into chunks, cut my apple and onion into large bite-sized pieces, and have cracked two eggs into the mix.


My sausage is mostly browned, with just a little pink still in the center.  I’m going to bake this for an hour, so the sausage will cook through – I just don’t want it to dry out, which is why I’m not fully browning it now.


This gets added to the bowl, and mixed in well.  I season with a little salt and pepper, too – just ‘cuz.


Time to stuff.  I’ve rubbed the cavities with EVOO, sprinkled with some salt and pepper, and then I loosely spoon enough filling into each pumpkin bowl to bring it almost level to the top edge.  I place them, with their “lids” on a large foil-lined baking sheet, which I place into a preheated 400° oven for about an hour.


Apparently, Clayton’s mother never made pumpkin seeds, and parsimonious farmer-type that he is, he always wants to save these for planting later.  Hello?  Why should I trade a cup of snack-food now for the potential yield of several hundreds of pounds of pumpkins later?  I mean, really… !  Despite my flawed sense of economy, this time he allows me to do with the seeds what I will, so I pull the threads from them (it’s easiest to do this by putting everything in a bowl of water; the seeds will float to the top, and you can pick them out of any nests of pumpkin strings more easily when they-re wet), then spread them between several lengths of paper towels to dry.


After tossing them with some EVOO, sea salt, and garlic powder, I spread my seeds across another foil-lined baking sheet, then I place them in the oven – stirring occasionally – to toast for about 20 minutes.


At the hour mark, I check my pumpkins, and they are beautiful!  The tines of my testing fork easily slide through the thick orange flesh, and the filling has started to caramelize.  Final step: I add about 1/2 cup of room temperature heavy cream to each bowl, then place the pumpkins back in the oven for a final 20 minutes (while my seeds toast).


At the last minute, I decide to fry a few sage leaves as garnish.  Using an inch of corn oil in my smallest pan, I quickly sizzle a few leaves off, before draining them on paper plates and sprinkling them with sea salt.  Fried sage leaves are delicious and crisp, and they made a nice compliment to the fresh sage already baked off inside the filling.

My pumpkin seeds are crunchy, too – perfectly roasted and sizzling hot.  I eat a few handfuls right when they come out of the oven.  Clayton thinks they’re a little too sinewy and fibrous.  I think he’s loopy.


Piping hot, creamy and crunchy, sweet-tart apple and sharp onion crisp, spicy meaty and earth scented, this cornucopia of fall flavors is a bundle of delicious delight.  We double-fist dive into each amazing orb, using a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, scraping pumpkin flesh from the sides and scooping savory cream stuffing at the same time.  We can’t stop ourselves; we barely speak; we sup with equal measures of abandon and enthusiasm. It’s headslappingly heartwarming. It’s belt-unbucklingly filling.  It’s epic.  Enjoy!

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

Bloomsday: a celebration of all things James Joyce – and, more specifically, everything Leopold Bloom.  June 16 is the day James Joyce first enjoyed a date with Nora Barnacle, who would become the love of his life, and in tribute, June 16, 1904 is the day during which all of the story in Ulysses  takes place.  I read Joyce at Harvard Extension several years ago, to fulfill one of my ALM elective credits, and I fell in love with his voice almost immediately.  Ulysses is a masterwork of English Literature – a simple day-in-the-life-of story, but a complex tapestry of passion, imagination, symbolism, patriotism, spirituality, and erudition.  Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, is a lusty, vigorous man fraught with insecurities and obligations — far too human for me to sum up in a few words.  But I can say this – Bloom ate with gusto:

 “He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes.  Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

For breakfast, 107 years ago yesterday morning, Bloom enjoyed a pan-seared pork kidney:

“…[he] crushed the pan flat on the live coals and watched the lump of butter slide and melt.  … [H]e unwrapped … and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce.  Pepper.  He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup…. He prodded a fork into the kidney and slapped it over…  [later]… pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from the side of the pan.  By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back.  Only a little burnt.  He tossed it off the pan onto a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it… He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat.  Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat.”

My apologies to James for my clumsy editing, yet this is a food blog – not a literature blog – and it’s Bloom’s breakfast at the onset of Calypso (and not Molly’s awakening, or Milly’s remembrances) I’m mulling over today.

Yet, dear readers, surely you can see that my picture above is not one of pork kidneys!  Alas, neither Whole Foods nor Savenor’s had the requisite innards on hand – nor, to be quite honest, do I relish said innards as much as Bloom does. (Clayton – even less so.)  But I had to honor the Irish muse and his Bloom and Dedalus and Molly and Dublin somehow – so I took to the internet to find a recipe for an appropriately themed Irish dinner by which to pay homage to Joyce and his creations.  Thank you, Tara, at Smells Like Home for your excellent rendition of bangers and colcannon: your recipe’s beguiling picture (as displayed on the third page of Tastespotting.com’s search engine return for “irish”) simply called out to me, arresting me in my tracks, compelling me to make her — as Joyce’s faux-chapter-heading’s namesake did to her Odysseus.  On the plate, Ogygia is represented by a mountainous island of craggy white mashed potatoes, stubbled throughout with bacon and cabbage and spring onion, surrounded by a chocolate stout and brown sugar sea.  Like the lotus-eating sailors lounging with lassitude on the water’s edge, seared brown in the sun, my tender pork and garlic sausages lay tanned and glistening on the spud surface, sweating savory juices, just begging to be eaten.

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

1lb yukon gold potatoes
4 oz bacon
1 head cabbage
3-4 spring onions
EVOO
3/4 lb pork sausage
12 oz Guinness beef
brown sugar
butter
flour
salt and pepper
sour cream
milk

My basics tonight were thick cut bacon, sausages, potatoes, and cabbage.  Almost everything else I had on hand, so on top of being a celebration of a literary masterpiece, this was cheap enough a meal for even Stephen Dedalus to afford (in today’s economy – relatively speaking, that is).  Whole Foods used to carry bangers, but when I asked the butcher why I didn’t see them in the window, he said no one had ever purchased them or even showed any interest — until they no longer had them.  But they did have a non-Italian styled “garlic and pork” sausage, which was mild enough to stand-in for the traditional banger, even if they were larger.  I purchased 3, knowing I’d split them later.

I start with my potatoes, which I peel, cut into 8ths, dump into salted water, and bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, or until I can easily pierce them with a fork.  Meanwhile…


… I dice my bacon…

… and very thinly slice my cabbage.

The bacon goes into a hot pan, along with a generous helping of fresh cracked black pepper, to render all the fat and crisp.

But oh – there’s not enough fat yet!  I add a couple tablespoons of butter to the pan, and let it melt and foam…

…before I add the cabbage shreds.  I toss this very well, coating all the greens with slick bacon fat, then I set the heat to medium and let this sizzle and sautee for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is just tendercrisp.

This bundle of spring onions wasn’t the greenest — they felt more like small leeks — but the flavor was fine.  I chop them roughly, reserving and inch or so of each of the ends to julienne for a final plate garnish.

The chopped onions go into the cabbage pan, where they get tossed in well, too.   After about 5 more minutes, salt and pepper to taste, mix one or two more times, then remove the cabbage mix from the pan and set aside.

Now these are some beautiful sausage.  They are a bit understuffed (read: limp) actually, which works rather well in the long run,  since they have some steaming room inside the casing, resulting in more tender meat.  It also keeps them from splitting open during the cooking process, even after you pierce the membrane to release some of the inner juices.

I’ve got my large skillet set over medium high heat, and I’ve got a few glugs of EVOO shimmering hot on the surface.  In go my links, which I let sear on each side until they’re each striped with brown.

See?

When my links are nice and browned, I add my bottle of beer, set the heat to medium, and let my links steam the rest of the way to cooked-fully-through.  My Guinness will reduce and condense, concentrating all its malty chocolate Irish flavor as it goes, getting ready to become gravy.

Meanwhile, I’ve drained, then mashed my potatoes with a fork, and it’s time to cream them up.  I add a couple tablespoons each of butter and sour cream…

… and about a cup of milk.  I return the pan to low heat, and whisk this well into a nice, creamy whipped potato – adding milk as needed until it is just the right consistency.

It’s time to make colcannon out of mashed potatoes.  I add my reserved bacon and cabbage and onion and black pepper and butter mix to my spuds, and stir well, fully blending the two delicious side dishes into one.

My beer has reduced by 2/3rds, and my sausages are perfectly cooked.  I remove them from the pan, and set them aside, leaving the beer boiling over the heat.

I take about a tablespoon of softened butter, and a tablespoon of flour, and I mash it together to form a paste.

I also have about 2 tablespoons of rich, sticky brown sugar ready.  I whisk the butterflour and brown sweetness into my boiling, thickened Guinness, lowering the heat to medium, and I let this ambrosia simmer down to a glossy syrupy glaze.

Clayton O’Fountain and I dig into our bangers and mash with much boisterous toasting and smashing together of our Guinness-filled mugs; we sop our sweet sausages with the savory sugary thick brunette gravy, holding our forks overhand and our knives like spatulas;  we spread our hot baconcabbagepotatopulp over our forkfulls and jackknife our loads heartily into our open mouths; we grunt with satisfaction, and dive in again and again and again, only pausing to swig malt beverage and to mutter our full-mouthed approval.  Afterwards, we lean back in our chairs, loosen our belts, strokepat our tummies, and sing “The Harp That Once through Tara’s Halls” a few times, remembering Dublin at the turn of the century, remembering Joyce.  Ahhh…. Bloomsday!
Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

A Yankee/Union/Foodie New Year’s Eve Dinner

Home, and broke, for the Holidays.  The Fountain tradition-of-the-recent-past has been seafood, but Whole Foods offered only a paltry choice (no lobster, no crab legs) this year, and we were sadly uninspired.  But what about something symbolic, even if superstitiously so?  We eschew our heritages as much as we can (don’t know why; call it a philosophical psychosis) but even our hoity-toity city selves can’t deny the wholesome down-home goodness of a truly Southern meal: black-eyed peas (each one consumed=one luck-filled day); collard greens (=dollars);  boiled fresh ham with hickory sawmill gravy (just ‘cuz it’s damn delicious, and a natural complement to the aforementioned greens and beans); and cheddar cornbread (for sopping).

Hugh likes.  Come on over, honey; Lisa always cooks extra, in case a surprise stud (like you) comes a’ callin’…

For step-by-step instructions on a Southern-style city-inspired New Year’s supper, click each of the following pictures in turn.

Festivus Roast Beast, Brussels, Baked Onions, Creamy Mashed and Merlot Mushroom Gravy

Our holiday meal this year: a tradition in the making.  We’ve thrown both my ‘Rican and his redneck roots out the window, and have cultivated a preference for a rather high-falutin’ British-style supper.  A standing rib roast, something green, something white, something creamy, and something gravy — that’s all we ever really want for Christmas.

Click on each of the pictures below in turn to see step by step instructions for dinner tonight.